Because I’m ‘that’ guy, a co-worker excitedly approached my desk to share something. It seems no matter what Businessman Dan veil I’ve hid behind, at every workplace I inevitably become the person most folks share the witty and wacky or absurd and obscure. As my associate cued-up a photo on his cell phone, he prefaced his story with “you have a dog, don’t you?” Then, while turning the screen towards me he glanced forward. Like a kid playing freeze tag or statues, he stopped dead in his tracks. Apparently my normal RGF (resting goofy face) was briefly replaced with a pained twisted ashen expression. Reflexively, the words “for the moment” almost shot out of my mouth, but I quickly thought it best to keep the lid on that messy worm can.
After a particularly long uncomfortable pause, he asked if I was alright. I replied, “bad timing”. Apparently, I returned to my usual poker face quickly enough for my co-worker to proceed showing me the funny doofus doggie behind a glass-door pup pic. He explained his dog’s dubious dealings with a recovery collar strapped around his neck. I responded with the tale of a friend that had bedazelled her dog’s ‘cone of shame’ to look like a regal Elizabethan queen’s collar. After a brief chat, my associate walked away, I went back to the headaches on my desk, the clock kept ticking, the world kept spinning and the day continued for everyone except my dog.
My co-worker had no way of knowing I was playing God in three hours. I had an appointment to put down my 19-year-old dachshund later that afternoon.
In his last couple of years our elderly dog had retired from chasing garden moles, bunnies and squirrels. His weak legs had even made his beloved long walks a thing of the past. Instead of our nightly crazed leaping bark-fest greetings, he slept through many of our comings and goings. With some of our other pets, my wife and I almost selfishly stepped over that elusive line between their quality of life and keeping them around for us. This time the line quickly came into clear razor-sharp focus. A call to our amazing Vet only confirmed what we already knew. With 19 years of speeding inertia behind it, the time to make the most difficult final decision of our dog’s life was uncontrollably barreling into our laps.
Last month my medical doctor slapped my wrist when I showed up to my usual yearly physical over three years late. I mentioned that my dog had not missed a Vet appointment, but I was not as good with myself. I followed with a boatload of lame excuses for my extreme tardiness but that was a spurious sea cruiser she refused to board and would not hear any part of it. I like my doctor. She is straight forward, no nonsense, calls me out on my bullshit and believes in preventive medicine versus reactionary.
As I sat getting poked and prodded in all sorts painful, ticklish and embarrassing ways, I tried to make idle small talk conversation to take the focus off the lecture about waiting so long between visits. As we prepped for the prostate poke, I mentioned that the brave person that trial and error invented that procedure, must have had the same blind moxie as the person who figured out its okay to eat raw oysters. When that got no reaction, I moved to a sure-fire conversation topic guaranteed to take the focus off my overt delinquency.
I recalled she had a baby a few years before my last visit. Since everyone loves talking about their kids, I asked how her child was doing. I stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed the pained twisted ashen look that suddenly appeared on her face. She took a deep breath and gave me her well-rehearsed “she passed away late last year.” I didn’t know part of the physical was seeing if my foot fit in my mouth.
I offered sympathy and she broke the ensuing awkward silence by saying the experience has made her even more ardent about practicing preventive medicine. As we chatted more I realized besides her obvious strength, I also respected her for using the experience versus being defined by it. But I did not know how to express that, so I just kept my mouth shut.
I hate that my reaction to my co-worker’s dog picture hours before putting my pup to sleep, was the same as my doctor’s mourning the loss of her young daughter. How is it fair for me to compare the pain and shock of both events? Sure, sorrow is everywhere in the world. Always has been. It’s part of being human. But it makes me question degrees of pain and mine versus yours. Do I have the right to feel as bad as I do about the lose of my dog when so many suffer so much more?
I know it was because of the delay between my visits, but the thought still crossed my mind that spite was the reason my Doctor sent me for a handful of tests with other specialists. I set appointments all over town for stuff like an EKG, a CT scan, a colonoscopy and some other junk. So far, the results of all my visits are as good as can be expected. But when things turned bad with the dog, I also had to make the appointment for his final visit. The Vet assured us we could bring him in anytime night or day if we had to, but otherwise she would stick by our decision to let us have one last weekend and then take care of things late Tuesday.
I kept having issues, not about our decision, but with setting up the appointment. This was not me setting a time to get my teeth cleaned, give blood or even get an uncomfortable medical procedure. This was me just casually setting up a time and place to play God with the life of our beloved dog. As the days and hours clicked closer my uneasiness grew. BJ had as good a weekend as possible but by Tuesday he was noticeably weaker. As my calendar reminders went off, my feelings grew more disconcerting. Just another penciled-in mark on my planner. It felt cold and messed with my head until my coworker came over to my desk asking, “You have a dog…?” “For the moment” I thought.
In my head, that moved it from obsessively uncomfortable to gallows humor. My brain was better with that. It put me in the right frame of mind. I was not playing God. I might have casually set an appointment but that day he made it clear he was done. I was not shooting the horse because I did not need him, I was making the ultimate sacrifice FOR him. It hurt, but we were doing the exact right thing at the exact right time. Afterwards, our pain still lingered, but the clock kept ticking and the world kept spinning.